The Dragon Upstream: China’s Role in Lancang-Mekong Development

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Abstract

This chapter examines China’s development on the upstream half of the Lancang-Mekong river, including the perspectives on local, regional, national, and international development that inform and motivate the nature and magnitude of that development. The primary goals of the chapter are to explain China’s development approach to the Lancang-Mekong basin, Chinese development priorities for the upper half of the basin, and how those priorities are shaped and acted upon in China. I begin by describing the physical and human geographic characteristics of the Chinese half of the Lancang-Mekong Basin. Next, I lay out a series of problems or issues as perceived within China, and show that the corresponding solution to each problem wholly or partially justifies (from the Chinese development state’s perspective) the construction of major infrastructure projects in southwestern and western China, of which the Lancang hydroelectric cascade is a major component. Finally, I discuss decision-making structures and practices in China and how they shape China’s engagement with downstream neighbors regarding basin-wide development.